California law protects drought-stricken homeowners from HOAs

But local government can still contradict state drought restrictions, for now

Good news for at least some California homeowners trying to conserve water and follow state law in the middle of a statewide drought of historic proportions: a new law prohibits homeowners' associations (HOAs) in the state from punishing residents who let their lawns turn brown during drought conditions.

For the past year, the state of California has been dealing with a record-breaking and still-worsening drought. The governor declared a state of emergency last January, and “directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages,” according to the state government's official “Drought” webpage.

Given how much water is needed to keep residential lawns looking lush and green, urging residents to reduce their lawn watering was a natural step to take. “Brown is the new green” became a slogan for statewide anti-drought efforts, and just last week, on July 15, statewide restrictions on outdoor urban water use came into effect.

Lawn outlaws

Unfortunately, none of this has prevented homeowners associations and even city governments throughtout the state from fining or otherwise punishing people who let their lawns turn brown.

Last April, state legislators proposed a bill which, if passed, would prohibit HOAs in California from requiring residents to maintain water-intensive lawns during drought conditions.

On Monday, July 21, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB2100 into law, prohibiting HOAs from penalizing homeowners for brown lawns during established drought conditions. However, this new law applies only to HOAs in the state, not city governments, some of which still require lawns to look “healthy and green” or be in “healthy green condition.”

A married couple in Glendora faced a ridiculous legal Catch-22 the same day the statewide watering restrictions went into effect: California would fine them $500 if they watered their lawn, and Glendora would fine them $500 if their lawn stayed brown.

The city appears to have backed away from its “green” mandates, however; a couple hours news reports brought national attention to the story, the Glendora city website posted an update assuring everybody that “In extreme drought conditions, the City understands that lawns will have brown color.

However, a similar law restricting local governments from penalizing drought compliance is almost certain to be proposed and passed into law during next year's legislative session.

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